As Singapore nears towards phase 2 of its reopening, many organizations may be torn up whether to recall their employees or to resume the default telecommuting arrangements as urged by the local government. The concerns of employers are evident for all, they fear that efficiency will be compromised, that their workers require the confines of the office in order to be productive.
But let me offer you an alternative perspective: What if the conditions aren't the problem but your workers are? You see, if your workers are truly invigorated, their work environment would not be factor. They would be self-motivated enough to accomplish their daily tasks with the same efficiency and competency as they would normally have done in the office. So is motivation the actual problem rather than workplace environment?
Distractions in the office?
Yes, there may a greater desire to slack off but my counter is that surely you have a number of distractions in the office as well? Be it talking to colleagues or taking coffee breaks. There are plenty of distractions in the office as well, but we rely on the attitudes of our employees to set boundaries.
There are distractions where ever we are, we must trust that our team are self-motivated enough to still do the job efficiently. It is the same principle that is applied in the trust that bosses have during telecommuting arrangements. So is working from home really that different?
When telecommuting, people are free to work from the comforts of their home, the allure of this should not be underestimated. People are by definition comfortable at home meaning that they are free to do their best work. The transition back to office life may be a tougher one than most anticipate, especially when telecommuting is still very much on the agenda.
People may feel like it is unnecessary for them to be back in the office and are simply there to be under "Big Brother's" watchful guise. You can be certain that motivation levels will be affected, people will feel there is no element of trust. And if a relationship has no trust, is it a relationship worth pursuing? For decision-makers, if telecommuting is possible, organizations should continue to deploy it without hesitation.
How will employees be affected?
Leaders should also consider the mental state of their employees, are they comfortable returning to work? Bear in mind that this pandemic is far from over, the reopening is happening because of the economy, not because it is safe. Thus, some employees may be uncomfortable with the thought of having to squeeze in a carriage when commuting to work.
However, they are fearful of taking a stand and telling their employers that they would like to continue telecommuting as a matter of safety. Workers should know that they are well within their right to voice their concerns, some may live with their elderly parents or may even be at risk themselves.
This is one instance when companies can show that they actually care about the well being of their employees. Trust that your employees will put in their best effort, if you are unable to do that, they should not be part of your staff at all.
Management teams must be mindful of this, if workers feel like they are forced to return, you can be certain that their work will suffer as a result. So in the end, their work may actually be affected by the resumption of office life. As a boss, you owe it to your workers, to have honest conversations where you listen to their concerns and actually take them onboard.
What is the true effect of being in the office?
No one really knows the true effect of being physically in the office, it is all speculative. Organizations simply wish to revert the norm as it is what they are accustomed to. Not only from a safety point of view, but also an organizational one, the effects of working in an office may be overstated, at this point no one really knows, some people may in fact work better from home, where they are undisturbed and have more autonomy in their tasks. In terms of corporate workflow, the frequency of meetings are unaffected with technological tools like Zoom and thus inter organisation communication has not be compromised.
Treat this situation as an opportunity to pivot, to improve workplace process and redefine efficiency. This is the new normal and we should embrace it instead of running back to the past as soon as the opportunity arises. Just because your employees are in the office does not mean that they are being productive. Dispel that notion and get acquainted with the new normal.